The Middle Finger Election

One Week To Go

If Trump wins, explains Rich Lowry, the editor of the journal founded by William F. Buckley Jr., it will be because he is “The Only Middle Finger Available.”

Voters will back Trump not because he stands athwart history, yelling “Stop,” or because he offers a compelling vision of a Trumpian Morning in America, writes Lowry, but because he is a giant opportunity to say F*ck You to the media, academia, Hollywood, professional athletes, and entire world of woke culture.

He’s not wrong.

Welcome to the Countdown Journal. There are 7 days to go until Election Day, and then 78 days until the Inauguration.

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Lowry’s argument is part description and part rationalization. He notes that the middle finger “may not be a very good reason to vote for a president, and it doesn’t excuse Trump’s abysmal conduct and maladministration.”

But, he explains, “Trump is, for better or worse, the foremost symbol of resistance to the overwhelming woke cultural tide.” He has become the anointed vessel “for registering opposition to everything from the 1619 Project to social media’s attempted suppression of the Hunter Biden story.”

To put it in blunt terms, for many people, he’s the only middle finger available — to brandish against the people who’ve assumed they have the whip hand in American culture.

The tweets, the insults, the bullying aren’t the bugs; they are just different versions of the middle finger — and his people love it. Conservative ideas are just the gloss.

I suspect that Buckley himself would’ve had a different word for this: nihilism.

But we are also seeing the devolution of the right, from Buckley, to Reagan, to the Flight 93 election, and now to the Election of the Raised Middle Finger. On this trajectory, 2024 will be The Grunt and Head-Butt Election (an essay by Victor Davis Hanson).

But the raised middle finger is a useful image, because it also manages to describe what a Trump second term would look like.

As Axios reported “a win next week, no matter the margin, will embolden Trump to ax anyone he sees as constraining him from enacting desired policies or going after perceived enemies.”

He is already planning a festival of retribution, which includes firing FBI Director Christopher Wray, CIA Director Gina Haspel, and Defense Secretary Mark Esper, reports Axios. A safely re-elected Trump would also be unleashed to turn the Department of Justice into a weapon of political revenge.

He has already signaled his plans to gut much of the Civil Service, issuing an order “that strips job protections from employees in policy roles across the government.”

Beyond that? There is no second term economic plan. The debt and deficit? No idea at all. He will likely purge more medical experts and continue to wield his magical thinking against the coronavirus until we get a vaccine. Hundreds of thousands of Americans will die and the economy will be weighed down for years.

On immigration, expect more cruelty, as there be no one to dissuade Trump from his pet ideas that include things like sharpened spikes on his new Wall. He may pull out of NATO. The corruption will continue, and Republicans will look the other way.

And none of this will come as a surprise, because everyone will have understood what the election was really all about.

Trump never pretended that he had a second term agenda. Last summer, longtime fluffer Sean Hannity served up a softball question when he asked Trump “What are your top priority items for a second term?"

This was Trump’s full answer. Savor it:

"Well, one of the things that will be really great -- you know, the word experience is still good. I always say talent is more important than experience, I've always said that. But the word experience is a very important word. It's a very important meaning. I never did this before. I never slept over in Washington. I was in Washington, I think, 17 times, all of a sudden, I'm president of the United States. You know the story, I'm riding down Pennsylvania Avenue with our first lady and I say, this is great. But I didn't know very many people in Washington. It wasn't my thing. I was from Manhattan, from New York. Now, I know everybody and I have great people in the administration. You make some mistakes like, you know, an idiot like Bolton. All he wanted to do was drop bombs on everybody. You don't have to drop bombs on everybody. You don't have to kill people."

Afterward, he was given multiple chances to give a better answer, but he never did. As Peter Baker later wrote in the New York Times:

How would he be different in a second term? Really not much at all. “I think I’d be similar,” he said. Which is exactly what his supporters want and his opponents fear.

Beyond more of the same, he has strained lately to define what his second-term agenda would be. Asked at various points, even by friendly interviewers on Fox News, he has offered meandering answers. His fellow Republicans seem no more certain. They therefore dispensed with a party platform altogether, opting instead for a simple resolution of loyalty to the president.

“But so I think, I think it would be, I think it would be very, very, I think we’d have a very, very solid, we would continue what we’re doing, we’d solidify what we’ve done, and we have other things on our plate that we want to get done,” he said.

In other words, he has no idea. And much of the MAGAverse don’t care.

As Ben Shapiro explained, his most important reason for backing Trump this time around was that “Democrats have lost their fucking minds."

Four years ago, Shapiro had posted a six minute video on YouTube titled “Donald Trump is a Liar.” The next month, he wrote, “I Will Never Vote for Donald Trump: Here’s Why.

But, like Lowry and National Review, he has evolved.

Shapiro explains his reversal by pointing to what he sees as Trump’s record as a conservative, but he strains to rationalize Trump’s mendacity, which he acknowledges. So he’s left to argue that however bad Trump is, the “damage that President Trump has done to the country, on a character and rhetorical level, has already been done and cannot be undone. I don’t see it as getting worse day by day. That is the new status quo unfortunately.”

In a recent endorsement video, Shapiro insisted that "I have been very clear on my feelings about Donald Trump's character. I have serious reservations to say the least...” He worried about “the soul sucking of the Republican Party to approve Trump’s bad behavior; people nodding and grinning at bad stuff Trump did….”

But, he insisted, “Trump has some good qualities.”

“He’s a hammer in search of a nail. Sometimes he hits a nail and it is super satisfying and sometimes he hits a baby and it is far less satisfying….” [Emphasis added.]

Apparently, you have to smash some babies to make an omelet, or something.

Shapiro dismisses all of this because, he says, “whatever damage he was going to do has already been done.”

But this is a Vesuvius of wrongness.

With Trump, it can always get worse, because there is no bottom. In just four years, Trump has already made the conservative movement, dumber, crueler, more dishonest, and more extreme. Rationalization has turned to acceptance. As the toll rises from the pandemic the pro-life party increasingly behaves like a death cult.

Four years into his presidency, Trump can tweet conspiracy theories about Seal Team Six, and Republicans no longer even blink.

What will be the butcher’s bill for another four years of Trump’s denialism and flimflammery?

Two years of accommodating deception, cruelty and corruption, can be a temporary bargain.

In four years, it becomes a habit.

In eight years, it becomes a culture.

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Confessions of a Vichy Republican. Make sure you read Olivia Nuzzi’s article: “The tortured self-justification of one very powerful Trump-loathing anonymous Republican.”

There will be life after Trump, and those who endured his cannibalistic reign have more immediate worries than what people 100 years in the future will think of them. “If he loses in November, all the rats are gonna say that they were only working for him to save him from himself, which is bullshit. Everyone loves power. Everyone likes to feel important,” the Republican said. To observe the early signs of the partywide effort to distance from Trump has been satisfying. “It vindicates how I’m operating,” he said. “I want to have my cake and eat it too. And that’s how they feel.

A win for judicial conservatives. But at what cost? Via the Wapo:

With only Republicans supporting her confirmation, Barrett is the first Supreme Court justice since Edwin Stanton in 1869 to be confirmed without bipartisan support, according to a review of Senate voting data by the National Journal. Even Sen. Joe Manchin III (D-W.Va.), who backed now-Justice Brett M. Kavanaugh in 2018 and Barrett for her circuit court seat three years ago, did not support her.

About that Texas poll. The latest NYT/Siena poll has Biden down four points in Texas. But check this out:

The findings suggest that Republicans face catastrophic risks down-ballot, even if Mr. Trump wins. Mr. Biden leads him by five percentage points, 48 percent to 43 percent, across the 12 predominantly suburban congressional districts that the Cook Political Report has rated as competitive. These districts voted for the president by eight points in 2016.

In these districts, Republicans face a combination of rapid demographic change and previously unthinkable Democratic gains among white college-educated voters. Mr. Trump leads Mr. Biden by just two points among white college graduates in these districts, even though they say they backed Mr. Trump by 24 points over Hillary Clinton in 2016.

There are 7 days until Election Day.

Quick Hits

1. Three possible outcomes

Bill Kristol in this morning’s Bulwark:

Consider three alternate Wednesday, November 4, headlines:

  • “Trump loses presidency as Midwest flips; GOP holds Senate.”

  • “Trump defeated by big margin; election called early as Florida and North Carolina go to Biden; Democrats win Senate.”

  • “Biden wins by double digits in popular vote; rout extends to victory in Texas; Democrats control Senate easily.”

The initial reactions to these would be very different. But so, probably, would be the lasting effects. One would be a defeat for Trump, the second a rejection not just of Trump but perhaps of Trumpism. The third would open up the possibility for a re-making of the GOP and of conservatism itself.

2. When the QAnon Apocalypse Doesn’t Come

Thomas Lecaque in today’s Bulwark:

The Storm is, of course, nonsense like the rest of QAnon, and Donald Trump will eventually cease to be president—preferably sooner rather than later. Which brings us back to the question: When the apocalypse fails, what will become of QAnon?

Historians are not prognosticators, and the past and present are not cyclical, but there are plenty of examples we can look at of apocalyptic movements that have failed. Let’s examine three: the First Crusade, the Millerites, and the Branch Davidians.

3. Trump as a Champion of ‘Bourgeois Values’? Not So Fast.

Historian Ronald Radosh in today’s Bulwark:

On the weekend of October 17, the Wall Street Journal ran a lengthy interview with political writer and historian Fred Siegel, conducted by a Journal contributor, Tunku Varadarajan. The piece is headlined “An Ex-Liberal Reluctantly Supports Trump”—but Siegel never considered himself a liberal; he viewed himself as a democratic socialist and his support for Trump is anything but “reluctant.” The piece’s subheadline notes how Siegel “came to appreciate the president’s defense of ‘bourgeois values’ against the ‘clerisy.’”

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Deep Thoughts

1. If you hate wokeness, you should vote for Joe Biden.

Yascha Mounk in the Atlantic argues that “voting for Trump to stem the rising tide of illiberalism is about as pure an example of cutting off your nose to spite your face as political life can afford.”

Those who worry about illiberalism on the left should take this pattern to heart. According to commentators such as Shapiro, progressives already hold power in universities and the mainstream media, in Hollywood and Silicon Valley. If they also capture Congress and the White House, they would gain virtually unified control of American politics and culture. But fears of a Biden presidency leading to a woke takeover misunderstand the way public opinion moves in America. Because Trump’s ample failings have given the most misguided claims of the far left a superficial veneer of plausibility, Trump himself has been the far left’s biggest ally. And if the Biden administration does overreach on key cultural issues, that will likely set the stage for a course correction—a cascade back to moderation.

If you want to combat illiberalism, casting a vote for Donald Trump is the worst possible thing you can do.